Terroir in Translation: Exploring the Place of Place in the Global Food System – Terroir in Latin America

By World Congress Planning Committee

DATE: SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2016                                  TIME: 2:00PM


Session Code: IRSA_24B


Session Description: The concept of terroir, or the way that specific geographic and sociocultural characteristics influence the foods and drinks produced in particular places, has long been associated with its French origins. Yet various permutations and interpretations of terroir can be found around the world: from Mexican tequila to Hungarian tokai, from Wisconsin artisanal cheese to Darjeeling tea, and from Vermont maple syrup to Chiapan mangos, to name a few. The sociocultural meanings ascribed to each of these interpretations of terroir vary widely, a dynamic further complicated by the influence of markets and institutions on conceptualizations of terroir in particular contexts. In some cases, for example, terroir appears to be actively constructed or ‘engineered’ in dialogue with market demands, while in other cases longstanding cultural traditions dominate understandings of terroir. In some national agricultures, terroir is at the center of rural development agricultural policy, for reasons both cultural and economic. Too, the degree to which terroir is inextricably linked to specific ecologies is more fluid than it initially appears, as foods today are constructed and deconstructed at scales ranging from the molecular to landscape levels. This paper session aims to explore new and changing conceptualizations of terroir in a variety of international contexts, primarily exploring non-Western European understandings of the following questions:

To what degree is terroir a fixed or fluid concept? To what degree does it reflect an ongoing dialogue between cultures, specific ecologies, and markets? How are interpretations of terroir linked to particular economic and political institutions and underlying power relations? How do interpretations vary between places? What meanings does the construction of terroir in various cultures reflect? How might ‘inventing tradition’ influence how terroir is employed in non-Western European cultures? To what degree are conceptualizations of terroir bounded by taste?


Session Organizers: Kathryn De Master, University of California-Berkeley; Sarah Bowen, North Carolina State University


Session Chair: Sarah Bowen, North Carolina State University



  1. John Wilkinson, UFRRJ; Clovis Dorigon, EPAGRI

“Colonial” Products In Brazil: An Example Of An Extensive And Shifting Terroir  

The regions of the South of Brazil were occupied by Italian and German farming communities as from the last quarter of the 19th century. They were almost self-sufficient based on mixed crop and livestock farming with a strong tradition of artisan milk and meat products. In the 20th century, these farmers were integrated via contracts into large-scale agro-industrial production chains. As scale imposed itself most farmers were excluded and many returned to their artisan traditions. Recent research has identified 140 cooperatives, 263 associations and some 21,000 families involved in small-scale agro-industries in the Western region of the State of Santa Catarina. Their jams, cheeses and meats are collectively known as “colonial products” and as such have gained urban markets and promoted rural tourism. They are produced in a broad ill-defined swathe of territory in Brazil’s southern States and as these communities have migrated along the agricultural frontier their colonial products have accompanied them, reaching now even into the Amazon. How should we understand this phenomenon and how does it relate to the notion of terroir products? Terroir can be understood as a continuum with the social and “natural” components respectively at each pole with a perfect terroir situated in the middle. Colonial products we argue are origin, terroir, products close to the social pole of the continuum. We explore this dynamic on the basic of extensive research among these farming communities.


  1. Gerardo Torres Salcido, UNAM-CIALC

Territorial governance. ‘A new key for development’. The case of Local Agrifood Systems in Mexico             

Despite the great number of definitions, the scholars seem to agree in common characteristics of governance: decentralization, emergence of local societies, coordination of institutions, rules and markets. The knowledge of such features in a unique space, have given the governance a territorial dimension. However, mechanisms and tools of the governance have been poorly studied.
The aim of this proposal is to foster the debate of territorial governance by the means of: a) to present some results of research on the governance of LAFS in Mexico; and b) to contribute to the public agenda of the processes and mechanisms of governance. The paper starts from the assumption that there is no one type of governance for LAFS. It depends of the collective action and changes in the organizational and geographical proximity markets. Qualitative methods will be addressed to tackle this hypothesis.
This contribution is divided into three parts: first, the concept of territorial governance. In the second part, case studies of LAFS with roots in the territory (prickly pear cactus, cuitlacoche mushroom and coffee) are analyzed descriptively regarding to governance mechanisms. In the third part, we conclude that the territorial governance is a concept under construction that can provide some important elements to the policies of territorial development, but its success or failure depends on the capabilities of collective and trust to set common goals.


  1. Sarah Bowen, North Carolina State University

Terroir, Tradition, and Colonial Legacies in Mexico’s Mezcal Industry     

In this paper, I explore negotiated definitions of terroir and tradition among mezcal producers in Mexico, a country marked by its colonial past. The production of distilled agave spirits, also known as mezcal, originated in western Mexico more than 400 years ago. As distillation techniques spread throughout Mexico, producers adapted their techniques to each region. In some regions, colonial settlers began growing agave and producing mezcal on the haciendas; later, distilleries in these regions were among the first in the country to adopt innovations like masonry ovens and column stills and exportation of mezcal. In contrast, the large indigenous population and prevalence of communal land rights in Oaxaca and other places meant that these regions largely “escaped the process of modernization.” Today, in a context of skyrocketing demand for artisanal mezcal, these historical legacies foster a national debate over defining and regulating mezcal. In this paper, I draw on interviews conducted with mezcal producers and other industry stakeholders, as well as content analysis of regulatory documents associated with the quality standards and regulations that define how (and where) mezcal is made. I show how debates about the practices that define traditional mezcals—the cultural aspects of terroir—are tied, in part, to colonial legacies. They also reflect power relations linked to concentration within the global spirits industry and the rise of multinational corporations.


  1. Mario del Roble Pensado Leglise, Instituto Politecnico Nacional

The “Terroir” how an autopoietic System              

The main purpose of this work is to analyze the “Terroir Concept” how result of an autopoietic System .   An advantage of this type of analysis is that it allows us to understand the Granovetter´s contribution (1985) over the Polanyi’s embeddedness and its methodological importance to distinguish the applicability of concept of “terroir” in a case study.
Here is it used the   INAO’s (Institut National de L’Origine et dela Qualité) concept of terroir how “A defined geographical area in which a human community built in the course of its history a collective production knowledge based on a system of interactions between physical and biological environment and a set of human factors. The socio-technical deriving from this situation paths reveal an originality, confer a typicality and lead a product originating in the geographical area to get a reputation” and the concept of autopoiesis from the Maturana’s notion so to explain to Autopoiesis is a peculiarity of homeostatic machines where “…an autopoietic machine is a machine organized as a system of production processes such concatenated components that produce components: i) generate processes (relations) that produce production through their continuous interactions and transformations, and ii ) up to the machine as a unit in physical space”.

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